Silviniaco not the force of old but he still has touch of class
Having won and lost small fortunes on him down through the years, I've a love/hate relationship with Silviniaco Conti so I'm trying my best to take an objective view of today's Betfair Ascot Chase (3.35) for which he's expected to go off as favourite around 5/2.
The last time I backed him was at Haydock in November for the Betfair Chase but as Cue Card took the lead three fences out while still on the bridle, I knew my goose was cooked.
I've realised that these days, backing Silviniaco Conti against fellow enthusiastic sorts like Cue Card is about as useful as waiting for a bus at a train station - and although it sounds obvious, it's probably best to follow him in races where his rivals are unlikely to have that extra gear to kick on.
What I'm trying to say is that Silviniaco Conti usually races prominently - but that extra push when needed that makes a good horse great seems to have gone lately and he ends up a little vulnerable to those which stalk him around the course and keep a little in reserve.
Having said all that, he's still the class horse in the race today by a good margin and he had his main rival in the betting, Dynaste, well held in the Betfair Chase.
Dynaste has had a wind operation since which may give him a boost but it's a very big ask to reverse the form with a horse which has beaten him seven times now and a price of 7/2 or thereabouts looks short.
Ma Filleule is a smart chaser and won a Listed mares' chase last time although it was a weak enough contest and I wouldn't look too much into that form. Previously, she struggled badly in a good quality handicap at Ascot and I reckon a Grade One is a little beyond her reach.
Royal Regatta is another threat around 6/1 but despite putting in some decent shifts in handicaps this season, he too may be a little out of his depth.
While it's fair to say that Silviniaco Conti's King George run (pulled up) was a major disappointment, he has had some problems with sarcoids (a type of skin tumour that can split and cause pain) which may have had an effect.
But Nicholls reports the skin issue as under control and the fact that Cheltenham is not on the horizon means that today's Ascot outing is a very important race for the ten-year-old (although he does still hold a World Hurdle entry).
I'm never too keen on backing horses in first-time blinkers but he's won some top races in cheekpieces so in this case, it may be worth a try.
It's definitely not the most confident bet I've had this year and he's certainly not the horse he used to be but at the prices, I'll stick with the formbook and give Silviniaco Conti a chance to prove he can still cut it at this level.
It's also worth noting that other than Howard Johnson, Nicholls has the best record in the business in bringing horses which were pulled up last time back to form.
Since 2008, he's had 197 such runners of which 40 won and 81 were placed. Had you stuck a tenner on each, you'd show a profit of just under a monkey (€500) with Lifeboat Mona being a recent example at Wincanton earlier on this month.
Back home at Fairyhouse, Willie Mullins' Triumph Hurdle hopeful Voix Du Reve has been chalked up at 2/5 for the opening Grade Three Juvenile Hurdle (1.45) but I'm not convinced he should be that low and feel it's worth taking him on.
He put in a number of good runs in France without setting the world alight before finally coming good at Nancy-Brabois and Enghien late last year. While the team certainly have a knack with these French imports, the form is somewhat hard to assess and he could be anything.
Instead, a chance is taken around 5/1 on Jessica Harrington's Newberry New which loves a slog in the mud. Robbie Power's mount drew nicely clear to win a maiden hurdle at Gowran last week and that came on the back of a good second to Lagostovegas in a similar race at Naas in January.
He seems to be improving with every run and with the favourite conceding weight all round, this may be a little tighter than the market suggests.
At Haydock, Duke Des Champs is my idea of a rock-solid bet in the Grade Two Prestige Novices' Hurdle (4.25) although I wouldn't be too hopeful about getting any price above even-money.
Philip Hobbs' six-year-old looked very smart indeed when storming clear to take a novice hurdle at Ascot in January.
It's a little disappointing to see just eight runners line up for the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock (2.40) but that makes the 7/1 available in the early markets all the more attractive for Rigadin De Beauchene as an each-way bet.
Although pulled up last year, Venetia Williams' gelding has a great record in this race, finishing second in 2013 and winning in 2014, both times off a mark of 131.
He fell last time at Warwick but it wasn't his fault as a loose horse took him out.
Previously, he won a decent handicap chase under similar ground conditions as today and 6lb rise in the weights to 133 still leaves him with room to improve.
1.45 Fairyhouse: Newberry New
2.40 Haydock: Rigadin De Beauchene (e/w)
3.25 Fairyhouse: Mala Beach
3.35 Ascot: Silviniaco Conti
4.25 Haydock: Duke Des Champs